The Perfect Courthouse Wedding in 15 Steps

Plan the courthouse wedding of your dreams with this simple step-by-step guide. Learn the pros and cons and how to budget, plus expert tips for a seamless day.

By Charlotte Grainger

Black and white photo of newlywed couple smiling at one another.
Photo by Constantinos Panagopoulos via Unsplash

If you think a courthouse wedding is simple, intimate, and affordable, you’re right, but if those adjectives tick all of the boxes for your big day, getting married at city hall can be a perfect choice. Even though city hall weddings can be easy, you should still know the ins and outs of planning a courthouse wedding from scratch.

For example, do you know what licenses you need and how far in advance to book your civil ceremony? That’s where Zola can help you think of everything to have your special day go off without a hitch. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place to help you create a wedding that suits you both, whatever your plans. In the following guide, we’ll take you through 15 simple steps you can follow to organize a courthouse wedding to remember.

Why have a courthouse wedding?

A courthouse wedding is a type of non-religious ceremony where you legally marry your partner. The biggest reasons to have a courthouse wedding are cost and simplicity, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring!

Courthouse weddings are inexpensive, but they’re also easy to plan and tend to be more personal compared to church weddings. If you’re looking to cut the cost of your event while still making it a special day, a city hall wedding may be the answer you’ve been searching for.

Pros of a courthouse wedding

  • Courthouse weddings can be budget-friendly.
  • Often, it is a simple affair that doesn’t take long to plan.
  • They can suit non-religious couples perfectly.
  • It can be intimate and special for you and your loved ones.
  • It's a perfect setting if you're looking for something understated and more casual.

Cons of a courthouse wedding

  • Courthouse weddings are relatively quick.
  • You may not be able to recite your own vows.
  • There’s a cap on the number of guests you can have.
  • You won’t be able to choose the officiant.
  • If you want an after-party, you’ll need a separate venue.

How much does a courthouse wedding cost?

An average courthouse wedding typically costs between $50 and $200, including both the application and the civil ceremony. Expect to pay between $30 and $150 for the initial application. Additionally, there may be an extra $20 to $50 fee for the civil ceremony.

Of course, the cost of a courthouse wedding will also depend on your state and the courthouse itself. Therefore, be prepared to consider any fees and extra expenses.

When you’re on a budget, a courthouse wedding can definitely save you money. The above is an estimate of how much you will spend on the bare bones of the wedding. However, it’s important to get a realistic view of the fees before you start planning your event.

For instance, you may want to consider any hidden costs. You will get a copy of your marriage license after your wedding day. But, should you decide that you want extra copies of it, you will likely have to pay for them.

Once you’ve covered the basics, you’ll probably want to splurge on a few wedding-day extras to make it feel like more of a celebration. These include your wedding attire, the flowers, and a photographer or videographer. Plus, once the courthouse wedding is over, you may choose to host an after-party or reception.

Expert advice: Totting up the numbers is never the most exciting part of planning your dream wedding. Yet it’s necessary if you want to stay on track. Use our free wedding budget planner to take the stress out of the equation!

15 simple steps to planning a courthouse wedding

Getting married at city hall sounds simple, but what are the steps to get from idea to wedding day? Get started planning your courthouse wedding by following these simple steps.

Step 1: Pick the perfect location

Courthouse weddings typically take place in city halls. However, you and your partner get to decide which one is right for you. Start by touring your closest city hall and seeing what the setup is like. However, keep in mind you don’t need to limit yourself to one option.

It may pay off to look at a variety of city hall venues. For example, you could choose a location in a town that’s meaningful to you and your relationship. Some couples opt for a city hall in their hometown—a memorable place that’s also likely a short commute for family members.

Step 2: Learn about marriage licenses

Next up, you need to learn about obtaining a marriage license in your state. It’s worth doing some research before you even think about dates and applications, as guidelines vary wildly. Some states require you to wait a certain length of time ahead of getting your marriage license, which can impact your date. Therefore, it’s best to figure out the system first.

Be aware that marriage licenses do expire. So, you should aim to get your license as close to your projected wedding date as possible. That way, you’ll be ready when it’s time to marry legally.

Step 3: Apply for your marriage license

Now that you know the drill, it’s time to apply for your marriage license. That means gathering all the relevant paperwork. Here’s typically what you’ll need:

  • Copies of your birth certificates
  • State-issued IDs (or driver’s licenses)
  • Social security numbers

If either of you have been married in the past, you’ll also need to provide the divorce papers at this point. Once you have all the above, applying for your marriage license should be relatively straightforward. Follow the official guidance to ensure you get it right.

Step 4: Tour the city hall in advance

couple entering hall

So that you don’t get married sight unseen, you should tour the city hall or courthouse first. Contact the administrators in advance and see when you can make the trip. Some courthouses will allow time after the ceremony to take pictures on the grounds and in the building. Ask about this during your tour. The more information you can gather, the easier it will be to make a decision and plan.

Step 5: Secure your appointment

Whether you can make your ceremony appointment in advance will depend on a few factors. These include the state, county, and how the city hall operates. Inquire with the courthouse admin staff to see what the process is, then follow it down to a tee.

While you may have a specific date in mind, know that you may not always get it. You’ll likely select a day ahead of time. If you want a weekend day, you may find that you have to wait longer than you would for mid-week appointments.

Step 6: Start the preparations

Okay, you’ve dealt with the red tape. The next step is wrapping up the rest of the wedding arrangements. Sit down with your partner and map out how your ideal celebration will go. Plan everything down to the most seemingly insignificant detail. Our courthouse wedding checklist can help you keep track of everything.

Step 7: Choose your witnesses

You’ll need two witnesses for a courthouse wedding. Choose people you can rely on and whom you want to include in your event. Speak to each of the witnesses well in advance to make sure they’re up for taking on this all-important role on your wedding day.

Step 8: Find out about the guest situation

The amount of guests you can invite to a courthouse wedding will be limited. Speak to the staff at the city hall to find out how many guests you can have. When you have a clear picture of the numbers, you can send out save the dates to the select group.

Expert advice: If you’re planning a post-ceremony party, you’ll ultimately be able to invite more guests to it. Make it clear on your invitations which part of the event each guest is to attend. This will mean there’s zero confusion and no hurt feelings!

Step 9: Hire a wedding photographer

Let’s say that you’ve spoken to the courthouse staff and found out that, yes, you’ll be able to take pictures on-site after the event. Don’t miss the opportunity to hire a professional wedding photographer. Take a look at the photographer’s portfolio and see that it matches your style. You should also ask some questions up front before you hire them for your event.

Step 10: Or capture it all on film

Fancy taking things one step further? You could hire both a wedding photographer and videographer for your courthouse wedding. These ceremonies go past in a flash. Having someone capture the main event on film will make for a beautiful keepsake. Just speak to the admin team to ensure that you’re allowed to film on the grounds of the city hall first. Also, ask the courthouse if a photographer counts toward your guest number. Don’t forget to factor them in!

Step 11: Pick wedding outfits

Ready to say “yes” to the dress—or suit? When you’ve nailed down the details above, you should start thinking about your wedding looks. Look at a variety of options (and, of course, different price brackets) before you land on attire that suits you both.

Remember, courthouse weddings are what you want them to be. If you want to ramp up the style and sophistication with your outfits, now is the perfect opportunity. Think about the overarching theme of your wedding and how you envision the pictures looking.

Be sure to keep your witnesses and any guests you invite in the loop. Let each of them know what the dress code is well in advance. The last thing you want is for some people to adopt a casual look while others are wearing fancy formal wear. Serve up some clear directions for your wedding party, and you’ll ensure that everyone looks on-brand for the day.

Step 12: Don't forget the flowers

wedding flowers

While you can’t decorate the courthouse, you can choose your wedding flowers. You may carry a bouquet down the aisle, have your witnesses do the same, or even decorate your transport with flowers. Since you do not have to decorate an entire venue with flowers, you may want to splurge on the arrangements. Think about your wedding theme, what you both like as a couple and which style flowers suits your wedding attire, too. Wondering who to hire? Find florists and flower shops near you here.

Step 13: Add personal touches

Personalizing your courthouse wedding is a simple way to make it extra memorable. As already mentioned, you may not be able to recite your own vows. However, there are other ways to customize this event and make it unique to your love story.

When you step out of city hall, you have complete control of what happens next. You may want to choose some quirky wedding transportation, give a quick thank you speech to the attendees, or even do something as a group to mark the occasion. This is your special day, and there are a million ways to make it creative. Try to think outside the box.

Step 14: Plan an after-party

Don’t let the limited number of guests hold you back. When your courthouse wedding is over, you have the chance to celebrate with everyone you care about. Couples often host after-parties for their friends and families, either directly after the courthouse wedding or in the following weeks. You could host a fancy dinner, hire out a restaurant or bar, or have people over to your home. Take the time to think about how you want to celebrate with others.

Step 15: Add some entertainment

If you plan an after-party, consider hiring an entertainer. Having a singer or band play is a sure-fire way to make things go off with a bang. On the other hand, if you’re hiring a venue, you may want to think about a wedding DJ instead. While these after-parties are usually smaller than full wedding receptions, you can hand-pick the elements you want to include in your event.

Final words on city hall weddings

Planning a courthouse wedding can be straightforward once you know how. Follow the steps covered above to start prepping for your big day. And don’t be shy about adding personal touches to customize your event and make it perfectly you. Now that you’ve got the inside scoop, it’s time to get to work! Sign up with Zola to access free wedding planning tools that make planning your wedding easy and stress-free.

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